Why youth voices are necessary in philanthropy

Youth voice in philanthropy is a necessity. Without it, we limit community sustainability and impact.

The nature of philanthropy is centered around an individual or group streamlining resources towards sustainable change in communities and to promote the welfare of others.

Since the 19th century, philanthropy has been the leading source of income in religion, medicine, health-care fine arts, performing arts and education. These industries support various populations covering a plethora of demographics with the goal of centering the needs and wants of their served community, while providing long-standing change.

Many foundations and individual philanthropists provide resources within these industries with the goal of supporting youth-centered programming, but many of them fail to seek advice or consultation from young people.

The lack of youth presence when planning and funding youth-centered work strips young people of their ability to create a community that reflects their interests and does not allow them to remain in control of their narrative.

There is a need for more foundations, individual philanthropists and community organizations to provide equitable opportunities for young people to lead giving initiatives and programming.

Youth also hold a level of responsibility in ensuring their voices are heard. They must organize and create opportunities to amplify their voices.

What does this look like?

A few examples are youth-lead grassroots organizing, developing a youth advisory group, or forming a coalition of youth groups under an aligned mission. The combined effort of youth agency and adult support in philanthropy — especially when the goal is to serve a youth population is not only a more ethical approach, but it ensures that youth remain at the frontline when addressing issues that impact them.

In 2018, I concluded an experience as the youngest participant to-date to take part in the Jane Goodall Roots & Shoots Fund II National Fellowship. I returned home filled with hope and ready to create change in my community.

While thinking about the most effective way to bring change, I remembered Jane Goodall’s sage advice: “Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference.”

This quote, coupled with my awareness of the lack of youth agency in philanthropy led me to develop the Steen Foundation.

The goal of my operational foundation is to increase the organizing capacity of youth, promote strong inquisitive thinking amongst youth and support youth in broadening their view of community through a creative perspective.

The Steen Foundation provides internships, fellowships, scholarships and grants aimed at ensuring youth have the skills necessary to earn jobs based on their interest. The Steen Foundation will continue growing and providing more opportunities that center the interest of youth by having youth lead the way from start to finish.

Youth-lead giving initiatives are already creating change in communities. The Skillman Foundation President’s Youth Council — of which I am a member — just provided $105,000 in unrestricted funding to 15 community organizations. This opportunity provided us with the chance to research local organizations, advocate for those we saw making the greatest difference, and direct dollars to support them. When youth are given the opportunity to create change, trusted to make ethical decisions and are supported by innovative adult change-makers there is no barrier they can not overcome.

When youth agency and philanthropy are combined, community impact becomes boundless. It is time to open the door to the future of sustainable youth-lead giving and create long-standing global change. What will you do to be a part of centering youth voice in philanthropy?